KIEV: Dozens of protesters were wounded in Ukraine's capital early Saturday when police brutally dispersed demonstrators calling for President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster after he failed to salvage an EU deal, a lawmaker and a witness said.
“The Maidan has been brutally mopped up,” opposition lawmaker Andriy Shevchenko said on Twitter, referring to Kiev's central Independence Square, the site of the rally and epicentre of the country's 2004 Orange Revolution.
“Dozens wounded, dozens arrested. Ukraine has not seen anything like this before.”
A rally of some 10,000 protesters led by top opposition leaders like world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko called Friday night for Yanukovych to step down after he refused to sign a key political and free trade deal with the European Union at a summit in Vilnius.
Around 1,000 protesters remained on the square overnight and riot police moved in around 4:00 local time, hitting the protesters with batons and pushing them from the square, according to a witness.
“We danced, jumped and cried out peaceful slogans,” said one demonstrator, Maria Chalykh.
“They started beating everyone indiscriminately. They beat everyone, the elderly, girls, even a child. His entire face was covered in blood,” the 17-year-old student told AFP.
“Everyone shouted, cried, some people fainted.”
Chalykh said that the Berkut riot police dragged people, kicked them and swore at them.
She herself lost consciousness and came to in an ambulance, she said.
She estimated that several dozen people might have received injuries.
The organisers of the rally set up a first aid station outside a church in the city centre.
Hundreds of riot police were deployed around the square in the run-up to Friday's rally, heightening tensions on day six of mass rallies against Yanukovych's decision to scrap the EU deal under Russian pressure.
Opposition leaders had warned their supporters the authorities might resort to force and provocations to disperse the demonstration.